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Commons Defence Select Cttee Chair, Bruce George
"It is a very significant decision"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 18:03 GMT
MPs seek answers over uranium
John Spellar
John Spellar said soldiers would be offered tests
MPs have urged the government to give all necessary help to British soldiers who believe they may have fallen ill as a result of being exposed to depleted uranium.

Reports have suggested that former Balkan peacekeepers may have been exposed to radiation and could be at risk of cancer.

The reports prompted Armed Forces Minister John Spellar to tell the Commons on Tuesday that while there was no evidence of any risk, soldiers would be offered voluntary screening to check for problems.

MPs welcomed the announcement but urged ministers to ensure further research was carried out to rule out any links.

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said it was important the health concerns of armed forces personnel were taken seriously.

"We owe it to those who serve our country to take a very careful and very comprehensive view of their health."

Conservative MP Nicholas Soames urged ministers to take steps to ensure that "all effective steps" were being taken to ensure that depleted uranium weapons were safe.

DU shell
Dense DU shells can penetrate armour
Mr Spellar told the Commons that depleted uranium was a safe and effective part of the British forces' arsenal which would continue to be used for the "foreseeable future".

There have been calls from other Nato countries for depleted uranium weapons to be banned.

Mr Spellar said Nato members would be co-operating on the issue.

Donald Anderson, chairman of the Common's foreign affairs select committee, expressed concern that Nato members were not sharing information on the issue already.

Delay criticised

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith criticised the government for failing to make a statement on the health risks before.

He said an earlier statement could have prevented much of the press speculation about health risks.

He suggested a more prompt announcement "would have soothed down some of the more ludicrous press comments".

Mr Duncan Smith also asked why the Ministry of Defence appeared to have changed its position on health checks.

"What has changed in the last 24 hours? The Ministry of Defence ruled out health checks quite clearly - at least through a spokesman - and then in today's papers this morning suddenly we were being briefed that there would be health checks.

"There's no new evidence so perhaps you could explain whether this case has been driven by other sources outside the Ministry of Defence, particularly, in this case, Downing Street."

Mr Spellar replied that the statement had been made on Tuesday to reassure the armed forces in the wake of press reports.

He said: "Inevitably there will be greater concern by our troops reading the weight of media coverage on this subject and it is important that our forces have the best possible reassurance regarding their own position."

He insisted that while depleted uranium weapons offered the best for Britain's troops a philosophy of "risk management" would take precedence over "risk avoidance".

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